Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Islamization Process in Angola - Moshe Terdman


Nowadays, the Angolan government is worried about the expansion of Islam and its consequences in the organization and structures of the Angolan society. On March 31, 2009, Rosa Cruz e Silva, the Angolan Minister of Culture, addressed the deputies of the sixth commission of the National Assembly, who visited the facilities of the National Institute of Religious Studies, and expressed concern about the growth and increase in the number of followers of Islam in Angola. She said that "our worry has to do with the expansion of Islam and the consequences it may cause to the organization and structure of the Angolan society".[1]

In the same day, the head of the Angolan National Institute of Religious Studies, Maria de Fatima Republicano Viegas, said that the Angolan Government was concerned about Islam in the country and would investigate the activities of all mosques over concerns that Islamic practices go against cultural norms. The domestic intelligence service (SINFO), charged with compiling a report on mosque activities, has begun conducting these investigations. Viegas described Islam as alien to the culture and traditions of the country and claimed that it victimized women who were married to Muslim men.[2]

Islam in Angola
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2008, Islam in Angola is a minority religion with 80,000 – 90,000 adherents, composed largely of migrants from West Africa and families of Lebanese origin. The Muslims comprise between 2.5 to 3 percent of Angola's overall population of 17 million people, most of them Christians.[3]

According to the same report, although the Angolan constitution provides for freedom of religion, the government has not yet legalized Islamic groups. In order to be registered and legalized, religious groups must provide general background information and have at least 100,000 adult adherents. The Angolan Government also requires religious groups to petition for legal status with the Ministries of Justice and Culture. For several years, the Muslim community has been close to meeting the registration requirement of 100,000 members. However, the Muslim community in particular is affected by this numerical limitation, since many of its adherents are believed to be illegal immigrants and, therefore, do not count towards the legal minimum.[4]

Islam in Angola is a very recent phenomenon. During the colonial era, and until the 1990s, one could not speak of the presence of Muslims in the country. Given the advent of the Portuguese on the Angolan coast in the late fifteenth century and their ecumenical enterprises thereafter and given the fact that the Kongo Kingdom, a part of which encompassed northern Angola, existed as a Christian kingdom for centuries, Islam did not emerge as a significant religion in Angola. Possible Islamic influence from the Swahili coast of East Africa did not materialize, and Angola has been a predominantly Christian nation.[5]

However, in the last decade, but especially during the last few years the Muslim community in Angola has grown appreciably and Islamic activities have become more common in major cities. Mosques have sprung up in a number of places and Qur'anic schools have been built to provide Islamic instructions and teach Arabic language to adherents. The Muslim community is predominantly made up of foreigners, especially businessmen and migrants from West Africa -- mainly from Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal -- and Lebanon. Some Angolans have converted to Islam as a result of active proselytization by Muslim organizations such as the Associacao Islamica de Desenvolvimento de Angola (Association of the Development of Islam in Angola, AIDA), and the Africa Muslim Agency, which is a primarily Kuwait-sponsored aid and Da'wah organization based in Kuwait. Other Angolans had come in contact with Islam while being refugees in neighboring states with a strong Islamic pretence. The new Muslim communities attract young Angolan converts, among them young Angolan females following Islamic dress codes. There is an evidence of a new marriage pattern emerging, namely between Muslim men and Angolan women who convert to Islam, opening related questions on the eventual political or economic aspects involved. Muslim affairs are generally governed by the Supreme Council of Angolan Muslims, based in Luanda. According to the Islamic Finder website, the Supreme Council of Angolan Muslims "was set up to take care of Muslim affairs in Angola".[6]

Historically, in Angola's diamond provinces, Muslims have been mainly West African immigrants and illegal immigrants from the DRC who have become Muslims while working in the DRC's diamond areas. Some Muslims in Angola's diamond provinces have become channels of investment for terrorist networks seeking to purchase diamonds from illegal miners, known as garimpeiros. Diamond sales reached approximately $1.1 billion in 2006. Despite increased corporate ownership of diamond fields, much production is currently in the hands of the garimpeiros. The Angolan government is making an increased effort to register and license prospectors. It has established an export certification scheme to identify legitimate production and sales.[7]

Apart from the diamond trade, many younger Angolans have been attracted to Islam by the economic success and social status of Muslim businessmen. The promise of solidarity can be a powerful lure to impoverished people. Despite a fast-growing economy largely due to its oil boom, Angola ranks in the bottom 10% of most socioeconomic indicators. It is still recovering from 27 years of nearly continuous warfare. Corruption and mismanagement are persistent problems. Despite abundant natural resources and rising per capita GDP, Angola was ranked 157 out of 179 countries on the 2008 UN Development Program's Human Development Index. Subsistence agriculture sustains one-third of the population.[8]

In this context, it should be mentioned that Angola is a resource-rich country that is reported to be the energy security of both the United States and China, and the source of stability for all of South-Central Africa. The rapidly expanding petroleum industry reached its Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cap of 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2008. But Angola’s production was cut to 1.64 million bpd in January 2009 by an OPEC mandate in response to plummeting oil prices. Crude oil accounted for 83% of GDP, 95% of exports, and 83% of government revenues in 2008. Angola plans to boost oil output back up to 2 million bpd next year, from the current level of 1.93 million bpd.[9] Looking at Angolan oil output, it is easy to see why Angolan officials refer to the U.S. as a "strategic partner." Approximately 11% of oil consumed in the U.S. comes from Angola, and the government plans to increase that share. Angola's ties to China are also strong. In 2008, the African nation was China’s second-leading source country for crude oil by volume, importing 599 million barrels valued at U.S. $59.900 billion, up 19.3% year on year.[10]

The Associacao Islamica de Desenvolvimento de Angola, or the Association of the Development of Islam in Angola, is the primary proselytizing organization in the country. Its founder and Vice President is Famar Drame. On May 5, 2006, Famar Drame published in Mathaba Religious News an article titled "Appeal to Muslims for Islamic Propagation in Angola", in which he described the then current situation of the Muslims in Angola and asked for an external help in propagating Islam in the country and in "instilling and educating our children with Islamic values and knowledge". According to this article, the Association of the Development of Islam in Angola is the first and only Islamic organization recognized and active in the country. By May 2006, the association succeeded to establish three Islamic schools. The Angolan Government authorized the association to build a mosque and a school attached to it in order to teach Islamic knowledge, Arabic and Portuguese. This school has a capacity of 560 students. The second school consists of five classrooms and each class has the capacity of 35 students for morning and evening classes. 175 students participate in both the morning and evening classes. The third school consists of 580 students, of whom 70 are orphans. Therefore, this school is a day as well as a boarding school.[11]

Attitudes of the Angolan Authorities and the Local Christian Church Towards Islam
Public attitudes toward Islam have been generally negative. Cultural differences between Angolan and Muslim West African immigrants have been the basis for negative views toward Islam, as was the perceived link between Islam and illegal immigration.[12]

The Angolan authorities too have treated Muslim migrant workers from West African countries with suspicion. Yet, since the September 11 attacks, there has been a deliberate attempt to link Muslims with terrorism. It has become a matter of routine at Luanda airport for security officers to detain Muslims arriving from Sahelian countries. Most of these people have been small-scale traders. Angolan security officials have increasingly been linking a number of Muslim businesses in the country with international terrorism, insinuating that those companies launder money for terrorist operations and are also allegedly involved in the trafficking of arms and drugs. There have also been allegations that senior government officials and some leaders of the ruling MPLA were in cahoots with the Muslims in their alleged nefarious activities.[13]

As a result, on January 26, 2006, Angolan police invaded a number of mosques in several areas of Luanda, ordered the Muslims to leave and confiscated their sound equipment. Muslims have also been banned from holding religious services. The mosques were then locked with chain without giving any explanation whatsoever. During the operations, the police were accompanied by officials of the local administration as well as those from the culture ministry. Lisboa dos Santos, the director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, on whose orders the police acted, defended the action by saying that the law that allows people to congregate for religious purposes "does not apply to Islam since Islam is illegal" in the country.[14]

After encountering difficulties in 2006, Muslim leaders reported that the government permitted mosques to operate freely. Yet, Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion and Belief and a special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council, who visited Angola at the invitation of the country's government on November 20, 2007, criticized in her report the lack of opportunity for detained Muslims to worship in detention centers and noted occasional anti-Muslim rhetoric taken by government officials in media interviews.[15]

Jahangir, who chairs the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that the Muslim community had not been officially recognized and the Angolan authorities had temporarily closed down some mosques in 2006. Jahangir said that several government actors had expressed concerns to her about the presence of Muslims in Angola and that the country was affected by the global trend of associating them with militant and criminal activity. "I was told that most of the illegal migrants in the country are Muslims and that they are involved in counterfeiting of money and money laundering, but we were provided with no evidence of this," she said in the report. She further said that "the government is obliged to promote tolerance, and I would hope that unsubstantiated statements by officials will not be made to the detriment of any religious community". Jahangir also visited two immigration centers in the West African country's capital Luanda. She said conditions at one, with only five detainees, were good. But those at the second were "deplorable" -- 95 percent of the 165 people detained were Muslims with no access to an imam or religious books and their dietary needs were not being met.[16]

The local Christian Church has also regarded the rapid expansion of Islam in the country with suspicion and fear. According to Rev. Luis Mguimbi, the General Secretary of the Council of Christian Churches of Angola, one of the biggest challenges currently facing the Angolan church is the rapid expansion of Islam in the country since 2002, when Angola allowed other religious groups to come to the country. In a country where approximately 40% of the population is Catholic and around 39% is Protestant, a lot of Angolans are currently converting to Islam. According to Rev. Nguimbi, this occurs for three basic reasons: because Islam offers money, supplied by big Arab corporations; because they offer jobs, since they are gradually controlling many of the local businesses; and because they are more liberal than the churches, especially allowing men to have up to five women. Rev. Nguimbi also affirmed that in the economic and political scene of Angola, Islam is becoming the "boss of the country". Four years ago, in 2006, the Council issued a declaration about the influence of Islam in the country, in which it asked the Angolan government to be careful and to awake to that reality. At this moment, the Council is not interested in a dialogue with Islam. Rev. Nguimbi said that "our priority is now to consolidate the Christian family before engaging in any dialogue. Not only is Islam one of the greatest challenges the church faces at this moment, but one that could cause another war in the country".[17]

Indeed, on September 1, 2008, a Muslim mob attacked the Christian community in the town of Andulo. The school-age daughter of a deacon at one of the churches was decapitated. Forty Christians were assaulted or tortured. The mob burned three church buildings. They also went to Christians' houses to intimidate them or destroyed items of property. Stones were thrown at the headquarters of a local Christian project, causing some damage. An Angolan Christian leader said that the local police were unable to stop the attack and fled the scene.[18]

This was the first case of riots between Muslims and Christians in Angola. In the last year and a half no other riots between the followers of the two religions have been reported or documented. Yet, it seems like the ever-growing suspicious attitude of Angolan Christians towards Muslims might bring with it the possibility of the eruption of more religious riots.

Furthermore, it is not clear whether the Angolan Muslims are really allied with al-Qaeda or not. It might be that al-Qaeda has been setting its sights on destabilizing Angola in order to disrupt its supply of oil to the West and to China and to control the Angolan diamond industry, but until now no activity of al-Qaeda in the country has been ascertained. Yet, al-Qaeda might take advantage of the suspicious attitude by which the Christians treat the Muslims in Angola in order to recruit Muslims into their ranks. If al-Qaeda can triumph in Angola, it can continue its plans to wage economic warfare against the West as well as seize a major income producing resource for its own ends.

In addition to Angola's oil, its identity politics following Independence might serve as an additional attraction for terrorists and others interested in promoting instability in the country. A smoldering conflict has plagued Angola’s oil rich Cabinda province since independence. More than half the country's oil is produced in the 7,283 square kilometer enclave--nicknamed the Kuwait of Africa--which is located some 60 kilometers north of the Congo River and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), and the DRC. Cabinda is physically separated from the rest of Angola by the DRC and by a distinct culture and history. The territory's three Kikongo-speaking kingdoms of N'Goyo, Kakongo, and Loango maintained their independence from European empire-builders until the Treaty of Simulambuco in 1885 turned their realms into a Portuguese protectorate with its own governor. Cabinda's population, presently estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000, largely belong to ethnic groups who traditionally straddle the enclave's political frontiers. Although 90% of educated Cabindans speak French, less than 10% speak Angola's official language, Portuguese.[19]

To sum up, not much if anything is known in mostly Christian Angola about Islam, which is a newly coming religion to the country. This lack of knowledge makes the Christians afraid of the Muslims, especially since many of them arrive from abroad. Thus, the fear of foreigners entering the country in large quantities together with the Christian fear of Islam, on which they know only a little, mostly about its connection to terrorism, make the life of the ever-growing Muslim population more and more difficult. This religious and social tension might provoke riots between Christians and Muslims in the future.

Since Islam in Angola is a new phenomenon, case studies on Muslims in Angola are still at their inception, and apart from this first article on the subject, more profound analysis is still to be done.

[5] See Oyebade, Adebayo O. Culture and Customs of Angola, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007, pp. 45 – 46.


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  3. Almost in many countries, Islamic hardliners always destroy the existing order, source of unrest and provoke wars and the like. Islamic groups like this are to be eradicated before it develops in the future and problematic.

  4. Nice blog.Thanks for sharing good information.